Winter storm bringing snow, rain to Arizona - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Winter storm bringing snow, rain to Arizona

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Posted: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 10:25 pm | Updated: 6:14 pm, Thu Dec 30, 2010.

Dozens of drivers slid off slick highways Wednesday as snow blanketed northern Arizona and rain drenched the lower desert during a winter storm that was expected to bring blizzards, freezing temperatures and dangerous driving conditions.

"To put it mildly, we're slammed," Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said.

The agency received more than 100 calls reporting slide-offs in a three-hour period, including semi trucks, Graves said.

All traffic was being restricted on Interstate 17 at Stoneman Lake, 15 miles north of Camp Verde, and heavy tow trucks were on the way to help clear the road.

Interstate 17 "is flat-out dangerous with icy conditions," Graves said.

The northbound lanes of the freeway were closed at the junction of State Route 179, the Sedona turnoff, and traffic was being redirected to the southbound lanes; drivers reported being stuck waiting for upward of three hours.

Abel Gurrola, his wife and three sons were stuck on Interstate 17 just south of Camp Verde for about four hours and counting on Wednesday.

"As far as I can see, it's taillights," he told The Associated Press from his stopped car.

The family drove to Flagstaff from their home in Gilbert on Tuesday so that the boys — ages 7,9 and 11 — could play in the snow.

"The kids are getting a little squirmy, so we're trying to keep them busy as much as we can," said Gurrola, 39. "We're having them do their multiplication tables and we've got 'Nacho Libre' playing."

Graves said DPS was working to help a nine months pregnant woman out of the traffic and get her to a hospital. He said she wasn't going into labor but just wasn't feeling well.

State Route 87 had a multi-vehicle collision and a 15-car backup just south of Payson, blocking both the north and southbound lanes, Graves said. The highway later re-opened. Snow chains or vehicles with four-wheel drive were recommended.

No serious injuries have been reported.

Snow was falling at the Grand Canyon, as well as in Flagstaff, Prescott and other parts of northern Arizona. Visibility was down to a half-mile at the Grand Canyon and down to a quarter-mile in Flagstaff, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Breckenridge said.

"If it gets to be heavy snow showers, it'll get right down to zero, and you won't be able to see more than a couple hundred yards," he said.

Snow accumulations of up to 2 feet were expected in areas with elevations above 6,500 feet; up to a foot of snow could fall at elevations between 5,000 and 6,500 feet.

Rain soaked the Phoenix area and much of south-central Arizona, and temperatures were expected to be as much as 15 degrees below normal. About a quarter of an inch of rain was reported at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and nearly half an inch had fallen in Deer Valley by Wednesday evening.

Breckenridge said low temperatures in the Phoenix area were expected to hit 29 degrees Friday morning.

"It's really going to be getting cold," he said, adding that Phoenix hasn't seen such temperatures since January 2007 and rarely gets this cold.

In Flagstaff, lows were expected to reach zero degrees Thursday and Friday.

A blizzard warning was issued in parts of eastern and southeastern Arizona, including the White Mountains, the Galiuro and Pinaleno Mountains, Catalina and Rincon Mountains, and Mount Graham.

Southwest winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph, were expected Wednesday afternoon, diminishing to 15 to 30 mph by Thursday morning, with gusts up to 40 mph.

Breckenridge said the combination of high winds and snow caused by blizzards causes the most problems when driving.

"Blizzards with low visibility leads to whiteout conditions, and that's very dangerous," he said. "In a total whiteout you can't even judge distance at all. It's very hard to know what's what, and you can very easily drive off the road and get into an accident."

State police urge Arizonans to avoid driving if they can, but if they must, they ask that drivers pack an emergency kit with clothing, food, and blankets.

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office warned backcountry skiers and others to be alert for potential avalanche danger on the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff.

Agency spokesman Gerry Blair said heavy snowfall often causes avalanches during or shortly after a storm, and that backcountry travelers need to be aware that no avalanche control or patrols are conducted on the backside of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort.Dozens of drivers slid off slick highways Wednesday as snow blanketed northern Arizona and rain drenched the lower desert during a winter storm that was expected to bring blizzards, freezing temperatures and dangerous driving conditions.

"To put it mildly, we're slammed," Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said.

The agency received more than 100 calls reporting slide-offs in a three-hour period, including semi trucks, Graves said.

All traffic was being restricted on Interstate 17 at Stoneman Lake, 15 miles north of Camp Verde, and heavy tow trucks were on the way to help clear the road.

Interstate 17 "is flat-out dangerous with icy conditions," Graves said.

The northbound lanes of the freeway were closed at the junction of State Route 179, the Sedona turnoff, and traffic was being redirected to the southbound lanes; drivers reported being stuck waiting for upward of three hours.

Abel Gurrola, his wife and three sons were stuck on Interstate 17 just south of Camp Verde for about four hours and counting on Wednesday.

"As far as I can see, it's taillights," he told The Associated Press from his stopped car.

The family drove to Flagstaff from their home in Gilbert on Tuesday so that the boys - ages 7,9 and 11 - could play in the snow.

"The kids are getting a little squirmy, so we're trying to keep them busy as much as we can," said Gurrola, 39. "We're having them do their multiplication tables and we've got 'Nacho Libre' playing."

Graves said DPS was working to help a nine months pregnant woman out of the traffic and get her to a hospital. He said she wasn't going into labor but just wasn't feeling well.

State Route 87 had a multi-vehicle collision and a 15-car backup just south of Payson, blocking both the north and southbound lanes, Graves said. The highway later re-opened. Snow chains or vehicles with four-wheel drive were recommended.

No serious injuries have been reported.

Snow was falling at the Grand Canyon, as well as in Flagstaff, Prescott and other parts of northern Arizona. Visibility was down to a half-mile at the Grand Canyon and down to a quarter-mile in Flagstaff, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Breckenridge said.

"If it gets to be heavy snow showers, it'll get right down to zero, and you won't be able to see more than a couple hundred yards," he said.

Snow accumulations of up to 2 feet were expected in areas with elevations above 6,500 feet; up to a foot of snow could fall at elevations between 5,000 and 6,500 feet.

Rain soaked the Phoenix area and much of south-central Arizona, and temperatures were expected to be as much as 15 degrees below normal. About a quarter of an inch of rain was reported at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and nearly half an inch had fallen in Deer Valley by Wednesday evening.

Breckenridge said low temperatures in the Phoenix area were expected to hit 29 degrees Friday morning.

"It's really going to be getting cold," he said, adding that Phoenix hasn't seen such temperatures since January 2007 and rarely gets this cold.

In Flagstaff, lows were expected to reach zero degrees Thursday and Friday.

A blizzard warning was issued in parts of eastern and southeastern Arizona, including the White Mountains, the Galiuro and Pinaleno Mountains, Catalina and Rincon Mountains, and Mount Graham.

Southwest winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph, were expected Wednesday afternoon, diminishing to 15 to 30 mph by Thursday morning, with gusts up to 40 mph.

Breckenridge said the combination of high winds and snow caused by blizzards causes the most problems when driving.

"Blizzards with low visibility leads to whiteout conditions, and that's very dangerous," he said. "In a total whiteout you can't even judge distance at all. It's very hard to know what's what, and you can very easily drive off the road and get into an accident."

State police urge Arizonans to avoid driving if they can, but if they must, they ask that drivers pack an emergency kit with clothing, food, and blankets.

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office warned backcountry skiers and others to be alert for potential avalanche danger on the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff.

Agency spokesman Gerry Blair said heavy snowfall often causes avalanches during or shortly after a storm, and that backcountry travelers need to be aware that no avalanche control or patrols are conducted on the backside of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort.

 

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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